The American Athletic is now in year three of it’s existence. The first two years the conference was made up of 11 teams, but this year will be adding Navy to the mix to give them an even 12 teams. As a result, the AAC will be split up into two divisions (East & West), which will result in the conference’s inaugural title game to be played.
Last year the conference ended in a 3-way tie at the top, with Memphis, Cincinnati and UCF all going 7-1. It really wasn’t a big surprise to see the Bearcats and Knights finishing at the top, but few expected the Tigers to be a title contender, as they had gone just 3-9 the previous year. The only other two teams to post winning records inside the AAC were East Carolina and Houston, who both finished at 5-3.
While the American Athletic had some respectable teams at the top, the bottom of the conference featured some of the worst teams in the country. Tulsa and Connecticut both finished the year at 2-10 and SMU went just 1-11 (started 0-11).
Here’s a quick look at how I see both the East and West playing out in 2015. For a more detailed look (schedule, game odds, roster breakdown) at each team, just click on their link at the bottom of the article.
AAC East Predictions
The race for the top spot in the East figures to be a 4-way battle between Cincinnati, Temple, UCF and East Carolina. While you could make a strong argument for all 4 teams, I believe it’s going to come down the Bearcats and Owls for a spot in the AAC title game. I have both finishing up at 6-2, but Cincinnati winning the head-to-head tiebreaker.
It might come as a surprise to some that I have Temple rated higher than both UCF and East Carolina, as the Owls only went 4-4 in league play last year. However, Temple will be the most experienced team in the conference with 19 returning starters, including 10 on a defense that yielded just 17.5 ppg in 2014.
As for UCF and East Carolina, both lose a lot from last year’s teams. The Knights have just 9 returning starters and the last time they had fewer than 10 starters back they went just 5-7 (2011), which is the only time in the last 6 years they have finished with a losing record. The Pirates on the other hand have just 11 starters back and have to replace both their all-time leading passer (Shane Carden) and all-time leading receiver (Justin Hardy)
That leaves Connecticut and South Florida battling it out to avoid the basement of the East. I give the slight edge to the Huskies, who should see noticeable improvement in Bob Diaco’s 2nd year and improved quarterback play from NC State transfer Bryant Shirreffs. South Florida will be in year 3 under Taggert, but will be learning new schemes on both sides of the ball and have just 4 starters back on an offense that averaged just 17.2 ppg. The Bulls also have a brutal conference schedule with 3 of their 4 home games coming against Memphis, Temple and Cincinnati.
AAC West Predictions
The West doesn’t have as many quality teams at the top, but both Houston and Memphis figure to be solid teams in 2015. Like the East, I have 2-way tie at the top with the Cougars and Tigers both going 6-2. I give the slight edge to Houston, who gets to host Memphis this year. With that said, it wouldn’t surprise me if Memphis won the division, as they have a legit NFL prospect at quarterback in junior Paxton Lynch and figure to score a bunch of points with 8 starters backs on a unit that put up 36.2 ppg in 2014.
I have Navy going a respectable 5-3 in their first action inside a conference after spending the last 134 years as an Independent. My big concern with the Midshipmen is their lack of experience with just 10 starters back. However, they do return star quarterback Keenan Reynolds and figure to have an advantage with most of the teams in the AAC not being familiar with their triple-option attack.
My big surprise in the AAC this year is Tulane, who I think could pull off a similar feat as Memphis and come out of nowhere to contend for a title. The Green Wave have 16 starters back from a talented young nucleus, will be in the 4th year under head coach Curtis Johnson and avoid both Cincinnati and Temple out of the East.
The bottom two teams I have projected in the West are Tulsa and SMU. Both of which will be starting a new era under a highly respected new head coach. The Golden Hurricane added in Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery and SMU hired Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. While both figure to turn their respective programs around, I don’t see it happening in their first year on the job. Both teams will be learning new schemes and don’t have the talent to compete right away.